From the cheek_ barbacoa a traditional, hugely popular, dish _ vida _ themonitor. com

For artful creativity, you can’t do better than the honey mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa. Spaghetti and meatballs homemade With a history as big as Texas, this tree has a strong hold on our native landscape that has served beast and man through the years.

Dalia Carr remembers the pit behind her family’s cafe where they’d cook barbacoa on the weekends.

They’d build a big fire, place coals in the pit, then place the beef head in a bucket — with water for steam — and put on the lid. Homemade italian meatballs for spaghetti Then they’d put the bucket in the pit, place more coals on top and cover it with a sheet of tin. Homemade italian meatballs and sauce By the next morning, they had a tender, delicious load of “cheek” meat to relish the entire day.

The days of cooking barbacoa in the pit behind El Fenix Cafe are long gone, as they are in many places, but barbacoa itself is alive and well at the diner where Carr and her family have served locals for decades.

Homemade meatballs cooked in sauce These days she steams the meat for several hours in a pot — beginning at about 4 a.m. Simple homemade meatball recipe Sunday — and serves it with tortillas.

“By 7:30 and 8, it’s already getting there, and usually by 8:30 and 9, that’s when my customers start asking for it,” she said. Simple homemade meatballs for spaghetti “It’s because I only sell it here in the restaurant as a plate and as a taco. The best homemade meatball recipe I don’t sell it to go. How to make homemade meatballs for subs I don’t sell it by the pound. How to make homemade meatballs and gravy I only sell it here. How to make homemade meatballs in crock pot I let it boil, and then I reduce it to medium heat all the way, until six to eight hours, and it just comes out really good.”

Many people throughout the world have stumbled upon the idea of preparing meat in a hole dug into the ground, said Melissa Guerra, owner of the Melissa Guerra store and author of the book Dishes From the Wild Horse Desert: Norteno Cooking of South Texas. How to make homemade meatballs and sauce Some Peruvian peoples, she said, have cooked in pits in the ground for a festivity called a pachamanca.

They lined the pits with burlaps bags or palm fronds and filled the holes with hot stones.

“Then you start layering foods in there,” Guerra said. Easy homemade spaghetti and meatballs “So you have meat, you’ll have vegetables, potatoes, corn, it’s almost like a New England clam bake, but it’s baked underground. Homemade spaghetti and meatballs They’ll cover it up, and it bakes there overnight. Homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs recipe Having a pachamanca is like us having a pachanga, and I’m somewhat convinced the words have a correlation.”

Guerra said that, traditionally, barbacoa was produced by placing a calf’s head in a pit lined with hot mesquite coals and maguey (century plant) leaves. Recipe for homemade meatballs for spaghetti Carr remembers her family sometimes rubbed the head with spices — comino, black pepper, salt and garlic — and wrapped it in a brown paper bag with twine, then covered it with tin foil before placing it in a bucket. How to make homemade spaghetti meatballs However, it can be done just as easily with an oven, which is what her recipe calls for in her book.

“When you do it in a hole, it’s basically an earthenware oven,” Guerra said. Homemade meatballs and sauce in crock pot “That is what it is. Homemade pasta sauce and meatballs You are making an earthenware oven out of a hole in the ground. Homemade pasta and meatballs It’s not really such a huge leap. Spaghetti and homemade meatballs recipe So, instead of using an earthenware oven, you move it to an electric oven or a gas oven.”

Guerra’s recipe for barbacoa calls for heating the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, sprinkling the meat with salt and wrapping it aluminum, then placing the package in a pan in the oven and letting it bake for six hours. Homemade meatballs for spaghetti recipe Afterward, she removes the meat from the oven, chops it into fine pieces and serve it as tacos with cilantro, onion and salsa, plus a few drops of lime juice. Homemade italian spaghetti and meatballs She loves barbacoa so much, she said, that she serves it in her restaurant, Taco Meli, in Edinburg.

“For me there is not a better part of (the animal), I mean it’s just such an excellent piece of beef, it really is,” she said. Quick and easy homemade meatballs “But you can only like eat a couple of tablespoons at a time. Meatballs homemade recipe I only can; it’s very, very rich.”

Ruben Hinojosa, Jr., vice-president for sales at H&H Foods in Mercedes, where Guerra purchases barbacoa for her restaurant, said barbacoa is in “huge demand.”

“We even service some major chains that serve it on their breakfast buffets, national chains,” Hinojosa said. Homemade sauce for meatballs “The restaurants that we service are usually the ones along the border, or in high Hispanic population areas like Atlanta, Chicago.”

The reason for this popularity is that it’s so traditional, Hinojosa said.

“Most young people, young Hispanics who grew up in Hispanic households,” he said, “and people who grew up in high Hispanic areas, Anglo people that have friends that are Hispanic, it’s a tradition that’s been passed down from one generation to the area.”

“It’s the tenderness,” she said. Homemade meatballs with sauce “It’s very tender. Homemade meatball sauce recipe There’s a lot of places that claim they’re doing barbacoa and they are not. Homemade meatball sauce What they are doing is steaming meat, basically regular beef, just a chuck roast or something. Homemade italian meatball recipe … Barbacoa is not that, because when you steam a roast it will usually come out, it’s a different grade, it doesn’t fall apart. Best homemade meatball recipe Barbacoa meat, you get it between your fingers and you roll it back and forth and it will just fall apart.”

The real, old-fashioned barbacoa includes the whole head — brains, tongue, bone and cartilage — a rather dense package that requires a lengthy cooking time. Easy homemade meatball recipe However, most places don’t sell the whole beef head anymore, Hinojosa said. Easy recipe for homemade meatballs Most meatpackers, he said, de-bone the head and sell the component parts. Recipe for homemade spaghetti and meatballs For their commercial customers, H&H takes the straight beef cheek meat, trims it, adds spices (including salt, pepper and garlic), and slow cooks it in steamers for about eight hours.

While many people do season their barbacoa while it cooks, both Guerra and Carr prefer not to do this.

“Some people put pepper, some people put garlic,” Guerra said. Homemade spaghetti and meatball recipe “I don’t believe that it needs any of that. Authentic homemade italian meatballs I think it needs a little salt.”

“I just add salt, nothing else, I don’t like adding a lot of spices to it,” she said. Homemade baked meatballs for spaghetti “I just like it, you know, just plain.”

Because H&H’s meat has been trimmed from the bone, it’s about 82 percent lean, Hinojosa said.

“Ours would be leaner in most cases than most other people’s barbacoa,” he said. Homemade barbecue sauce for meatballs “And especially if you took a whole head and cooked it, it’s going to be much fattier or have a higher percentage of meat to fat ratio.”

Carr shops around for her barbacoa meat. Calories in homemade meatballs with sauce She sometimes gets whole heads from local businesses, but usually she gets only the cheek meat.

“Right now I don’t have a lot of people that have acquired the taste for the whole head anymore,” she said. Easy homemade meatball sauce “We usually get the cheek meat at H.E.B. Homemade swedish meatball sauce and buy beef tongue also.”

For whatever kind of meat she buys, she knows, and her customers know, just how they like it.

“My customers will order, tomato, onion, cilantro on the side,” she said. Homemade bbq meatball recipe “And they’ll add eggs, they’ll add beans, they’ll add rice…”

Travis Whitehead covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. Homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs You can reach him at (956) 683-4452. Homemade spaghetti and meatballs from scratch For this and more local stories, visit

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Homemade spaghetti and meatballs sauce Sprinkle the meat lightly with salt and wrap in a double layer of aluminum foil so as to not allow any steam to escape. Homemade meatballs with italian sausage Place the foil packet in a baking pan and bake for at least six hours, until tender.

Remove the meat from the foil and finely chop it. Homemade meatball recipe with grape jelly Serve immediately, making tacos with the meat, cilantro, onion and salsa, adding just a few drops of lime juice on top.

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